Yes, I know, I only just published a blog post yesterday. But who says I’m limited to one every week? God knows I didn’t post one for two weeks before that one came out, so here is the compensation. A lot can happen in two weeks when you first arrive in a new country, and I simply couldn’t write all about Christmas and those other adjustments in one post. Here are just a few of the new concepts, observations, and conclusions I’ve drawn in my first month.
Since I’ve arrived, I have experienced many fluctuations in my mood. I have already had to remind myself quite a few times why I am here, and why I think it is important for me to complete something like this successfully. But, I want so badly to be able to go to the market without having to ask someone to come with me, and I want to be able to be independent here. It is especially ironic because I came here thinking that it would teach me to be more independent, but right now it is like I have training wheels on that I must slowly remove, and while I do so I use the resources of my neighbours and colleagues as they come with me to introduce me to this new way of life.
Bassa Church Service
A few days after the first Cameroonian marriage that I attended (which I will tell you all about later on), I went to the Bassa church service with the neighbours. I might’ve mentioned this before, but Bassa is the local language here in Edéa. The people here mainly speak Bassa, but learned French in school. Once I am more fluent in French, I hope to also learn how to say some simple sentences in Bassa to get a feel for their mother tongue. Anyway, in the morning I took the motorcycle with Tatiana to the church. The service starts later in the morning (at 10am) than the French service (which starts at 8am). I prefer the French service because it starts before the day begins to get really hot. Also, the Bassa service is incredibly long. I stayed until 1pm before Tatiana and I left for the market, and it was still going to go on for another hour at least. It was okay that the service was in Bassa because there wasn’t really much of a traditional service. At times, I forgot that I was even at a church service because it seemed like a kids’ talent show. There were many different performances where the kids did skits, modeled clothes, and sang songs. It seemed like each of them had a role to play and had also prepared quite a bit before hand.
My First Power Outage
On December 21, I had my first power outage. It was bound to happen because it is a relatively common thing here, but I had not yet bought a lamp in anticipation. Luckily, I had kept my reservoir of water full. It was on a Wednesday, and I was coming home from a workshop at Cam-Eco that had been going on for two days. I got home and spoke with the neighbours for a while, then planned to go inside and take a shower because I was disgusting. Thankfully, I wasn’t as disgusting as usual because they had fixed the AC at work so that now it would be freezing in the room that the workshop was held in. I actually brought a scarf with me each day so I could wrap myself up in it like a blanket while I sat there and understood half of everything that was said. Anyway, eventually the family told me that the power was out at around six, so the sun was quickly setting. The kids came into my house and we played together until it got too dark, then one of them went and got a petrol lamp for me. Finally I got a chance to shower, and then I just ate the food in my fridge that would go bad in a day if not eaten, and I read. It was actually a really nice night. All in all, now that I have a lamp of my own (it is not petrol, but a solar powered lamp that my neighbour went to get me from the market), I feel ready to take on future power outages. I have even had one since, which just so happened to have occurred on the day that Muriel and I get back from Kribi.
A colleague of mine in the office named Cecile was hosting a workshop, and we had known about it and been in anticipation of it now for a few days. Cecile also happens to live around the corner from me in the biggest house in my area that I have seen so far. It is really beautiful. I would love to go there for dinner sometime. Cecile, if you reading this, I apologize for how obvious that hint was! But I would be a great guest. Many people from across Cameroon and some other African countries came to the workshop, which lasted from the beginning to the end of each day for three days. The workshop was mainly on the topic of gender and how to improve equality between genders in the workforce, specifically in the industry of forestry. All things considered, it was a really good experience. I was happy that it also included food during meal times throughout the day, and coffee (real coffee, not just Nescafe) in the morning. I met a woman named Aissa there, and on the final day (December 22), she was telling me that she was planning on going to Kribi in the morning. She needed somewhere to stay for the night other than the hotel, as her work had only paid for a certain number of nights, so I offered that she stay at my place. Honestly, I was happy to have another woman in the house. It can be rather isolating at times to live entirely on your own in a new country where you don’t speak the language. I have no idea why, it doesn’t seem like it would. It also helped that her second language was English after her native language from the region that she originates from in Cameroon. When she came to work in Yaoundé in 2004, she began to learn French, and so French is actually her third language. I guess I can’t complain so much about my situation language wise.
A couple of the things that I noticed about the workshop was that people were very open to share their ideas and personal stories, and that they were also welcoming and accepting of everyone partaking in the workshop. As one of the exercises in the workshop, people volunteered to share stories about their childhood and how these affected them as they grew up to become an adult woman. This was a great chance for me to get a glimpse into their lives, and for us to become closer for it. At least we could all relate on the level of gender. There was also one particular song at the end of the workshop that stood out to me. The meaning of the song was “We are the women of Africa, and we are proud to bring news that there are women working in forestry to [insert place of origin of the person participating in the song]”. It was very catchy, and a good way for us to energize ourselves after sitting for so long.
One of the things that we did on the second day of the workshop was to go to another part of Edéa in order to collect data on the lifestyles of women living in that particular area. My group went to a family’s house and asked the women of the house what their typical day was like. Other groups interviewed the men, and the next day we compared and interpreted the results. We found that women generally do more housework than men, and I am sure there were other results, but it was difficult to make them out. Luckily, we will be doing more observations and data collection projects in the future, so I hope to fully participate in those.
A Balanced Relationship
I feel like I have mentioned this over and over again throughout these observations, but I will say it again; I am here in Edéa to provide a service that the people here might not have otherwise had the resources or the knowledge to accomplish. However, it is also necessary to point out that I am here to learn from them just as much as they will, I hope, learn from me as well. By this I mean that I did not come here to Edéa as a volunteer from a Western country to leave without having provided something valuable to the community here. If I did, what would be the point of volunteering in the first place? The challenge here, for me, is deciding what to provide. For the past couple weeks I have been asking myself what I have that I could offer to the people here that they would find valuable. It takes observation in order to do this successfully because you first have to find out what they need if you are going to decide what to provide them.
- Erica and some of Emmanuel’s other children have expressed a strong interest in learning English. As my French grows stronger, I also feel like I have a stronger ability to teach the children English as well. When Muriel came with me to Edéa for a couple of days upon coming home from Kribi, we went to the market together. This was a great experience on it’s own because I felt like it was the most productive excursion to the market that I had been on in Edéa thus far. Additionally, it was with someone who didn’t know their way around very well, so I was leading the way based on my knowledge of the layout of the market. It made me feel that, if it was not for the language barrier, I would be able to navigate my way through Edéa. I have heard that when you learn a new language it is important to find a stickler for the rules. Muriel is that for me; she stops me when I pronounce something wrong, and teaches me to say it correctly. It is very helpful. I feel like even just my time with her in Kribi helped me to form my sentences better. Anyway the point of this story is simply that I bought a book for myself to help with French pronunciation. It is a book for kindergarteners that are native to the French language, and very helpful for Anglophones like me as well. I took the book home with me and showed it to the kids, who expressed a strong interest to maintain a study schedule with me. They would help me learn French, and in turn I would also help them with their English. They are also my little sticklers for the rules, not to mention they motivate me to wake up earlier because they come over for our daily lesson every morning at 7am. Now they have come over for three days in a row. Thank goodness it’s the holidays, it is nice to have this time to catch up on work and set a solid base for when it starts up again.
- As nice as it is that the neighbours and I have a mutually beneficial relationship, I came here to work at Cameroun Écologie, and what I can do during my mandate there remains my first priority. The next step for me in this area is to set up a meeting with the finance department and present to them why I would recommend that they switch to Squarespace, even though it is more expensive in the short-term than WordPress. Ultimately my reason is that it would be cheaper for them in the long run, and easier for them to maintain overall. This plan has a long way to go as I begin the process of negotiations and work on the project, so I think it will require another blog post altogether. Keep an eye out for that one.
A Cameroonian Marriage! (No, not mine)
I will end this post with a story about the first marriage I attended in Cameroon! It is a fairly long story, but if you get to the end of it you’ll get a serious glimpse into my switch from the honeymoon stage, to the culture shock stage of my stay here. It has been about two weeks since the wedding so now I am happily starting to move away from the culture shock stage, which I hear is the hardest part upon arriving in a country that differs significantly from your own.
I had been looking forward to the marriage that would happen on Friday December 16 since that Tuesday. Blondine and I had gone to the Market together that day to buy shoes and she asked me if I wanted to go with her. I eagerly accepted. I was so happy to be invited to a marriage so soon after arriving to Cameroon. But, not only was Friday the night of the marriage, it was also the last night that Fred would be here for three weeks. He was going to France to visit his girlfriend and her family. This meant that the marriage was, for me, the event that would launch me into the world of Edéa without my co-Canadian friend Fred. Also, I wanted to impress him with my ability to navigate the town and speak the language when he got back, so these three weeks would be filled with learning and taking risks.
The beginning and end of the marriage were pretty slow, but the middle made it all worthwhile. First of all, marriage receptions here start at about 10 or 11pm, and they go all night long. In the evening it was raining and at 8pm or 9pm I was going back and forth about whether or not I should go. It had been raining, the roads were slippery, and I was worried about taking the motorcycle anywhere when it was slippery and dark. I didn’t even know what mode of transportation we would be using to get to the marriage, or where I would be spending the night. When I asked Fred about these things beforehand, he said that he had learned that it is impolite to ask what mode of transportation we will be using to get there, and where we will stay, so he didn’t know. Just like always, we just had to go with the flow and be prepared. So I was pretty hesitant. I kept changing in and out of the dress for the wedding. Eventually Blondine came over and told me we would be taking a car. The marriage was for one of our colleagues (Patrice). We got into the very cramped car on the road to Douala. At first I thought it was comfortable and I liked the drive, but it got hotter and more sweaty as we went, and when we finally got to Douala I was just happy to get out.
The dancing was my favourite part of the wedding. Usually I am constantly thinking about my French and how it is difficult to communicate with people here, but I feel like I’m a pretty good dancer, and you don’t need to speak the same language as the person you dance with. I just so happened to dance with Blondine. She also seems to really love dancing, and she has a lot of energy. Another thing about dancing at that wedding was that it felt like it was expected that anyone could just go up and dance, and it didn’t matter if other people were dancing or not. If you felt like it, you danced, and there was always music playing.
I generally do like the music that they play here in Cameroon, and I really liked the music here while I was dancing, but by 5am when the music was still blaring loud from the speakers, I really started to hate it. I also feared a little for the music damaging my ears. By about 3 or 4am Patricia and I were sleeping with our heads on the table. Us, Blondine, Dominique, and a few others were all that were left in the marriage hall. At this point I still didn’t know if we were going to be going somewhere to stay the night and sleep, or if we were waiting for a driver or something to take us back to Edéa. Apparently we were waiting for Blondine’s aunt to wake up so we could go and visit her. Finally the sun started to rise at 6am and we left the marriage hall. At this point my mood can be summed up with; I was extremely tired, worried about not being able to get by in Edéa without Fred, and hitting the end of the honeymoon stage all at the same time.
From there, we wandered into a market that was just opening, and looked exactly like an abandoned carnival in Beamsville, Ontario, upon first impression. There we found a woman that Blondine knew who told us where we could find a van to take us back to Edéa. We never did end up finding Blondine’s aunt. We got back to Edéa and the next task was to find a motorcycle to take us back to our homes. Blondine and I live very close to each other, thank goodness. There was one guy yelling la blanche! As usual, and I decided to ignore him, as usual. I was moving towards a different chauffeur that was calling me over by saying ma belle soeur! However, Blondine, to my surprise, automatically moved towards the motorcycle that I would’ve avoided more than any of them. She seemed to be set on the chauffeur that was yelling la blanche until I explained to her that I didn’t want to give the satisfaction to that chauffeur who I perceived to be rude. Now it has been about two weeks since the marriage and last night Blondine came over, and we were talking, and somehow the topic of la blanche came up. I explained to her that my initial reaction was that it seemed disrespectful to call someone out from the side of the road by only referring to their skin tone. The interesting thing about this is that, in this culture, it is the complete opposite. Blondine told me that it was a form of flattery here to be referred to as la blanche. The people here recognize that there is a long history and struggle between the blacks and the whites, and they also know that this history has played a major role in segregation, and distribution of wealth throughout the world. So why would it be flatteringly for them to point out my skin colour? In doing so, they are acknowledging that I am here in a country I don’t have to be, living in conditions I don’t have to be living in, which they assume are probably less comfortable for me than in my Western home. They don’t know why I have chosen to come to Edéa, but when they call out to me, they are acknowledging that they are proud that I am here and that I am trying, at the very least, to understand their circumstances better.
If you made it to the end, thank you for reading my blog! I hope you learned something new from it. If you did, let me know what you think. I would love to hear some comments of anything in particular that stood out to you. Happy almost New Year!